London holds a special place in my heart. Both of my children were born there and many great friends remain there. Last weekend marks one year since we left, so I thought it was a good time to pull out all our favourite books about London and take a little walk down memory lane. Kids have such a funny sense of time - a year, a month, a week, an hour. My 4 year old is sort of getting a better grasp of it but it is still hard to explain just how long a year really is. I suppose I am not much better. It feels like a life time since we left but also like yesterday.
Whenever I strike up a conversation with a stranger (like today in the library with a fellow mum), my 'sort of' newness to the area comes up. Then of course London comes up and always the same question - "Why did you leave?". That is a pretty hard question. I love London. It is such an amazing city and there was so much to do with kids there. We lived in a lovely suburb. I could walk absolutely everywhere (I don't drive). We could pop over to Europe for the weekend. I could go on and on.
Unfortunately we weren't close to any family and as we added to our brood, we started talking about moving 'home'. My kids could grow up with cousins and grandparents around them and that meant a lot to me. Also a teacher, I didn't really want my kids in the English school system. Don't get me wrong - I know a million brilliant teachers over there. It is more because of the constant change from the government, the pressure from inspections and the impossible workload put on teachers.
So that was it. We discussed it and kind of just did it. I started selling off our household items. We began the application process for residency for my other half. I booked a shipping container. We arranged flights. Then it sort of just happened. I was so sad leading up to the move, that it was like living in a blur. My youngest turned 1, just three weeks before we left and it was such a bittersweet celebration. Luckily we had a 2 week trip to France and a wedding of a good friend to attend before the actual move to Canada. That helped ease the transition a little bit.
It was still super tough though. When we arrived in Canada, it took months for my 4 year old to stop begging us to return or to tell me how much he missed his friends. You can plan all the activities in the world to distract a kid, but that won't stop them from feeling lonely. It broke my heart. It made the transition harder. Luckily little ones make friends quickly and soon move on. We have new friends and new jobs and have settled into life. Most importantly, I have more time with my kids, which was a big part of the move.
Sitting here a year on, we turn to books now to keep London and its memories alive in our kids' minds. We will go back one day with them, but for now we'll flip through the pages of these lovely books. Each page let's us tell our own family's story. Each page helps us reminisce.
Keep an eye out on our Instagram page for some of the activities we do that relate to each of these London books.
My son loves making books at the minute. Nearly everyday over the past month, he comes home from kindergarten with a book he made. On weekends he makes books. Before bed, he makes books. He has made books about seaweed. He has made books about sand. He has made books about dinosaurs. Lately, he makes books about Dogman (by the author of Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey) even though he hasn't read it yet. Sometimes the books have pictures and words. Sometimes just pictures. Either way, I love them. He is always so proud of them and I really want to encourage that pride with anything he makes. I also want to encourage any connection and love he has with/for books and reading!
I had been trying to think of a way to take his current book making obsession and create an activity for us to do together. Last weekend we ended up at Home Depot, of all places, and a great idea popped into my head.
Mark making or putting pen/crayon/pencil to paper, whatever you want to call it, was never something my boys had much interest in when they were young. If we talk about table activities - then mine love crafts and painting, cutting and pasting, gluing and sticking, but are/were not huge colouring fans or 'mark making' fans. My 4 year old started kindergarten and still wasn't interested. A tiny piece of me worried a bit, as much as I told myself not to. A few months into kindergarten though and he was writing up a storm. His letters are hard to read and all over the place with size and shape, but that part really doesn't worry me. He likes writing. That matters. He enjoys it. That matters.
I thought with my younger one perhaps I needed to present more opportunities to draw and colour. I was on the ball with early letter recognition (see my last post about having the alphabet in about a hundred places in our house) but maybe I didn't pull out the pencil enough? Who knows...it is all trial and error with parenting because each kid is so different.
Surely repetition is key to all learning, but I think especially so with younger learners. It is common sense really, the more you see, hear, say, explore and practise something, the more likely you are to really remember and know it. I always felt like it was difficult to do enough repetition of skills in my (older level) classrooms because the curriculum had so much packed into it. There was so much to cover, we were lucky to get back to main topics two or three times in a year. This is yet another point on my list of 'why I should home school', but we'll leave that discussion alone for now.
I recently posted about an ABC book on Instagram (see it here). My toddler has really been getting into his ABCs lately and is starting to recognise certain letter shapes. As I went around the house to look for some alphabet related activities we could do, I was actually a bit shocked at how much I found. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher? I've been subconsciously collecting alphabet items for the past five years?
I'm going to blame the fact that my closest friends are all teachers and get my kids the best gifts. However it happened, it is definitely a good thing. My kids will certainly see, touch, hear and play with the alphabet without every having me thrust flashcards in their faces. Not that there is anything wrong with flashcards. I just feel like they tend to used the wrong way with little ones more often than not. Repetitive learning is possible for toddlers, preschoolers and older children, without the need for tools like flashcards. Below are a list of just some of the alphabet related items my kids play with, that I found around our house.
I had never really heard of an 'invitation to play' before I became a mother. The majority of my teaching career was with older kids, so our learning was set up quite differently. Since having kids though and moving to work with younger children, it is something I encountered quite a bit. In the UK, children can start school as young as age 3. They don't have to, but the option is there. In Canada it is similar, kids can start at age 4 (JK) but don't have to legally be in school until age 6. After returning from my second maternity leave, I had the pleasure of covering in a nursery class (age 3-4) quite frequently for a term. It was lovely to see how they invited kids to play at various tables and stations throughout the room and in the outside space.
Even if you've never heard the term before, an 'invitation to play' is pretty self explanatory. If you make a space look appealing or interesting, children will come and investigate. That is really what 'learning' at age 3 looks like. I'm not going to pretend that I do this every day in my own house, but I do try to set something up each week for my toddler. It is in no way on the scale I would set up a classroom, but I like having a little table in the play room that I change around. It sometimes makes old toys seem interesting again.
I'm pretty excited these days because my 2 year old is really into naming colours. I love, love, love this age! Listening to his language develop and increase, blows my mind. I also happen to love colours and it is a natural stage all kids go through. Everything we see walking down the street gets labelled by its colour. Every toy is called by its colour. Colour is everywhere! It is probably one of the first adjectives that children start to use naturally when describing things. Don't let that skill pass them by!
Aside from inviting my kids to play with particular toys, I always like to link our play with a story. We visit the library all the time to keep on top of things but also have a pretty big collection of books. Loads of baby board books cover the colours but my favourite has to be a colours primer by Jennifer Adams. She has a whole series based on famous pieces of literature but that really focus on things like shapes or numbers or emotions. If you haven't seen them before, check them out.
“Are you asking your children questions while reading?” is one of the first things I ask parents when I do home consultations. Most parents say yes. It comes naturally to people, which is great, since it is such an important part of learning to read and understand language. When I first started running small preschool ‘reading’ groups, people thought I was going to have 3 year olds memorising sight words or something similar. Far from it!
Early reading skills really have nothing to do with reading words. There is so much that needs to come before that and can be done easily every day at home. Little ones need to listen to stories; interact with stories; have stories come alive with puppets or toys or silly voices; develop their own interest in stories; start to understand that letters and words have meaning and make sounds; mimic sounds; hunt for and point out objects on pages and be thinking about what they see and hear.
So ask them questions! You probably already are, but it is good to note that there are different kinds of questions.
As a Year 6 teacher in the UK, I had the (unfortunate) experience of helping kids prepare for the national tests that are given before leaving primary school. That meant that teaching became very technical and every skill was picked apart and analysed. Although I hated the tests, the preparation did help me understand where children were lacking in their reading skills (after being in full time school for 7 years). More often than not, children struggled to answer questions that required them to think beyond the literal and obvious. I place part of the blame on inexperienced or unsupported teachers. I frequently observed teachers leading guided reading with groups of younger children and found that they focused on 3 things: sounding out individual words, reading with expression in their voice and answering very straight forward literal questions. I was recently in a grade 5 gifted classroom and was a bit shocked to see the students handed a set of comprehension questions in which only one out of ten made the pupil actually THINK.
In staff meetings over the past 5 years (in the UK at least), Bloom’s taxonomy has been pushed a lot. It isn’t anything new. I remember studying it in teachers college ten years ago. It was developed in the 1950s by an educational psychologist (Dr Benjamin Bloom) to promote higher order thinking. It is useful to be aware of, but I’m not suggesting you sit your toddler down and grill them with this list. I’m not going to try and cover the six areas or all the questions that fall under them (because it is extensive), but please google it if you are interested in finding out more.
The point I want to drive home is that even younger children are capable of answering questions that are more challenging than, “What colour is the car?”.
You can discuss a book before you even open it.
Aim to ask some open ended questions while reading.
More than likely, you are already doing most of the things mentioned in this post. I hope you found a few suggestions though that might be helpful!
Children are born with ownership instincts. It is one of the first social issues to come up with kids. I can still remember the look on my son's face at the first play group I took him to, when another little pair of hands reached out for the toy he was holding. "Mine!" he shouted. He couldn't understand why someone wanted to take 'his' toy. Now that I have two kids, this is an ongoing battle between the two.
Ownership can be a great thing though. Something I took away from schools in the UK (that I really don't see much of here in Canada) is the way teachers in Early Years and lower grades give the kids ownership of their work. Pieces that children produce are usually labelled by a teacher, using the child's own words to describe it. To be fair, it mostly developed from the UK's inspection system. Teachers always have to have evidence of learning in case Ofsted drop in. It is time consuming to do with a class of 30, but it really does help a teacher see the development of the child's thinking over the course of the year.
It is also really lovely for a parent to be handed a collection of work at the end of the year. You can sit with your child and read through their work together. Rather than just see a page of dots, you can read about what they were trying to draw. It gives them ownership. It jogs their memory. I think it even gives them a sense of pride in their work/creations from a young age.
So I started doing it myself at home as much as I could. What I ended up with though was a giant box of every single scrap of paper that my kids ever wrote on. It was getting pretty ridiculous!
One day I was reading a blog (I can't remember which one, so if anyone knows, please add a reference for the idea!) and the writer shared how she organised her kids' work. She had a 3 ring binder with plastic sleeves in it. Each month she selected a few pieces she loved and slipped them in the binder.
I thought it was a great idea! I'm not quite that organised though. So I try to just stick a date on the work and then save it in a box of their 'creations'. Every once in a while (when the box is filling up), I bring out the binder and sort out pieces to keep. My older son loves doing this with me. We pick our favourite pictures (he doesn't know where 'the rest' of the work goes!) and read them together before filing them in the binder.
I have also been trying to snap pictures of all their work as we go along. That way we have a digital record of them in case a small set of hands gets hold of the binder and is in a 'ripping' mood.
How do you save and organise your kids' work? If it is a way that makes it easy to look back through it together as a family, please do share! I am always looking for ways to be more efficient.
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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